Comments on: In it for the Money: School Transportation it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Ruth Kraut Ruth Kraut Thu, 04 Oct 2012 01:18:21 +0000 Thanks Rod!

By: A2Person A2Person Wed, 03 Oct 2012 21:12:42 +0000 Ruth and Pam, Yes yes yes. Just this year I have met two families who left the district for reasons of over-testing and class sizes. The district is just wrong on this. There are beginning to be many examples of school boards and even superintendents pushing back against all the overtesting, but the AAPS seems to have bought into it fully. It makes me sad and angry.

By: Rod Johnson Rod Johnson Wed, 03 Oct 2012 15:18:19 +0000 I don’t have anything substantive to contribute to the debate here, but I wanted to express my appreciation to Ruth for her work as an independent, knowledgeable, committed observer of the school system. Thanks, Ruth.

By: Pam Davis-Kean Pam Davis-Kean Wed, 03 Oct 2012 13:29:38 +0000 I think there is real confusion as to why we have the NWEA. I want to add my frustration that a test that is not required by the state or federal gov’t does not have an opt-out option for parents. My son will now go from taking the SRI, NWEA, to taking the MEAP. The district doesn’t seem to think that it matters if the kids are getting any instruction at all. When I had my meeting with the district to try to get a waiver for my son, they said NO, all because of their goal to make my son’s education experience more fruitful. That fruitful experience has now become about constant testing–with the goal of putting children into ability grouping! It is clear to me that this was meant to have data to use for teacher evaluation. I do not want any child in the Ann Arbor School District to have to be used in this way. Student achievement has never been just the results of good or bad teachers. In fact, replicated research shows over and over again that the schools neither increase achievement or decrease achievement, they only hold the gaps at school entry constant. So, we do need all day kindergarten and a focus on preschool–we do not need to be testing the kids three times a year. As another note, teachers provide more to children than just basic instruction, they are often the other important adults in children’s life that make a difference to their long-term outcomes. When I talk to the college students at U of M you would be amazed at how many students talk about the teacher that changed or inspired them in some way. This is especially true for minority students. I am all for making instruction better–but also for thinking about schooling provides to children and our community at large. I am attaching a link to a talk that was just presented at the Univ. of Michigan by Sean Reardon who is an expert on the achievement gap. [link] You will see that our issues are much deeper than the schools and the schools alone will not fix are achievement problems and testing our kids like crazy won’t solve the teacher problems or achievement problems

By: Ruth Kraut Ruth Kraut Wed, 03 Oct 2012 04:30:39 +0000 Christine, I agree with the basic thrust of your remarks regarding school districts being squeezed by unfunded mandates, but it’s not true that “And the new teacher evaluation system *required* that we not only purchase NWEA, but also have enough updated technology in place to run the software (another unfunded mandate).”

It was the AAPS school board’s choice to purchase NWEA testing, and it was not purchased for teacher evaluation. Here is an exchange from a May 30, 2011 Ann Arbor Chronicle report of an AAPS board discussion [link]:

AAPS interim deputy superintendent of instruction, Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley, was on hand to answer questions during the second briefing on the proposed purchase of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment by AAPS.

Thomas began the discussion by asking a number of clarifying questions to address public concerns regarding the assessment, and Dickinson-Kelley answered them. He asked how long it would take for students in grades K-2 to complete (20-30 min); whether the test is age-appropriate (Yes); and, whether it replaces the MEAP (No). He also questioned how results will be used, and whether or not they will be useful for assessing teachers. . .

Regarding its uses, Dickinson-Kelley said the NWEA test would be used to assess students, not teachers. She reported that guidance would be offered to teacher-leaders and principals about how to adjust instructional practice to test results. . .

Baskett then asked about the connection between the NWEA assessment and the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). Dickinson-Kelley said that the district’s use of the NWEA tool will prepare AAPS for the replacement of the MEAP with a national assessment by 2013 or 2014, since NWEA uses national instead of state standards.

Some board members may have approved it in the hope that it might allow the district to use it down the road for teacher evaluation–even though, at that time, the answer was that no, it wasn’t to be used for teacher evaluations. In fact, when asked now, school board members have different accounts as to whether they thought it would/could/should be used for teacher evaluation. Perhaps most critically, NWEA itself says that it was designed for student evaluation rather than teacher evaluation, and that it does not have statistical validity for the purpose of teacher evaluation.

It was entirely the AAPS school board’s choice (with the enthusiastic support of the administration) to purchase NWEA testing materials. The board may have been misled as to the technological compatibility, because Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelly is referenced in an Ann Arbor Chronicle article as saying that, “AAPS had to identify an assessment process that is compatible with its current technology infrastructure, and the district has identified the NWEA assessment tool as ideal” (Chronicle, 5/17/2011).

Nine months later, when it appeared that AAPS technology couldn’t handle the NWEA, even for elementary school students, I was told that NWEA had warned AAPS that the state of AAPS technology meant that the district might not be able to handle it technologically speaking, and in fact the need for updated technology for the NWEA test became a rationale for the technology bond. [Note: there were new technology and curricular staff in place nine months after the decision had been made, so I'm not sure who knew what when.]

It’s not a requirement to have the NWEA. It’s not mandated like the MEAP. Whatever assessment becomes mandated (and there will be one) will probably replace both the MEAP and NWEA. At which point our district will have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that isn’t necessary. We have entirely too much testing going on in the schools now, particularly in the fall. Testing time takes away from instruction time.

I will say, over and over again until I am blue in the face, the district could drop NWEA if it chose to. And if the district doesn’t drop NWEA because it finds it useful, then it should drop some of the other testing and evaluation methods, like SRI, FastMath, other reading assessments. . . and give that time back to the teachers to actually teach.

By: A2person A2person Tue, 02 Oct 2012 01:57:10 +0000 I dunno, Bob. I recall from one of the budget forums I attended that completely eliminating the entirety of Balas wouldn’t solve the ongoing structural deficit we continue to face each year due to a combination of underfunding and an un-sustainable teacher pension funding system. I think it plugged a modest part of the hole for a single year, after which we are once again back to cutting zillions.

By: Bob Rorke Bob Rorke Tue, 02 Oct 2012 01:04:14 +0000 Mr. Nelson writes an article spotlighting a transportation problem that effects the youngest of AAPS students at Bryant. While money is always an important function in these matters, who makes spending decisions is more important. If decisions had been made at the Bryant school level, young children at Bryant now walking would be riding a bus. There would be less money for central administration. The Board of Education made the decision to keep their administration and favorite spending programs and make the little kids walk. Blaming others for your own decisions is childish.

I understand all the added expenses that the BOE has faced as unfunded mandates. They are certainly challenging but they are not the reasons for the structural deficit. The structural deficit is caused by the structure of the organization. Education is a decentralized activity. Yet the Ann Arbor Public Schools
remains a centralized organization, much like the old Soviet Union. No amount of money will be enough to
fund such a dysfunctional organization. No effective organization with more than 30 different operating units budgets from the Board table. Effective organizations of this size delegate budgeting to the operating level and the Board reviews the overall annual financial plan. Zero based budgeting is a waste of time unless the budget decisions are made by the right people, who in this case would be the building principals. In the past I have been told by people in Balas that principals were incapable of performing budgeting. I don’t believe this assertion. I do believe the answer is in changing the model of how the Ann Arbor Schools

By: A2Person A2Person Thu, 27 Sep 2012 22:20:49 +0000 Cmadler, purposefully obtuse, I’d say. Yes, what you say is true — half-day kindergarteners were getting a full allotment. But that money was going to the SCHOOL, to provide education for ALL the kids! It’s not like the money was being ciphoned off into greedy pockets or something. And now, with full day kindy, more teachers are needed, and therefore there is LESS in the pot.

Hence, doing yet more with less and less.

By: cmadler cmadler Thu, 27 Sep 2012 16:15:31 +0000 Christine, you refer to the transition to all-day kindergarten as an “unfunded mandate” (or at least, you imply that), but isn’t it the case that for a number of years Michigan’s per-pupil allotment for kindergarteners assumed local districts were providing all-day kindergarten whether they actually were or not? In other words, didn’t districts get the same per-pupil allotment for half-day kindergarten students that they were getting for full-day first-graders? That’s the opposite of an unfunded mandate!

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that education funding is in a bad place, and seems to be getting worse rather than better, but attempts to blame the problem on all-day kindergarten strike me as seriously misguided.

By: Christine Stead Christine Stead Wed, 26 Sep 2012 22:14:37 +0000 In 2012-2013, the AAPS had several million dollars in unfunded mandates that had to use more and more of the $183.6 million projected revenue (or our source of funding). For example, transitioning to all-day kindergarten cost $1.5 million in primarily new staff. The special education costs are being funded at a much lower % than in the past, requiring several million more of those precious general fund dollars to make up the difference. The MPSRS costs were budgeted to be more than last year since the state had not acted on that legislation when we had to pass our budget at the end of FY12. And the new teacher evaluation system required that we not only purchase NWEA, but also have enough updated technology in place to run the software (another unfunded mandate). And on, and on – to $18.6 million in incremental or escalating costs that we are required to accommodate in the projected revenue based on our foundation allowance.

Bob should be somewhat aware of these things, but if he is not, I am more than happy to spend more time with him or others to help create a better understanding of more of our current funding situation.

We are also transitioning to zero-based budgeting – something I advocated for last year, and something Bob was also interested in. This should help address some of the concerns that Bob sort of eludes to, but doesn’t quite articulate. That still won’t compensate for the approximate 10% general operating fund reductions that we’ve been experiencing every year. We have a structural deficit – meaning our funding model is the issue. We can’t ‘spend down’ our way out of this. The fix is in addressing the model.